Categories
General

In The Spotlight

It’s my turn in the spotlight over at the Koyal Writers’ website this week where we have been doing a series of blogs to introduce each of our members.

As there are seven members in the group, we came up with the idea of posing the same seven questions to each of us. The questions cover topics from how we see ourselves as writers to which books have stayed with us over time to where we would go if we could fly off to anywhere in the world right now.  And true to form, some of the questions have seven as a theme. 

‘Name seven books that are a permanent fixture on your shelf’ – one of the Seven Questions with the Koyals

You can read my interview here, but while you’re on the Koyal blog I recommend that you also check out the interviews with Sarah M Jasat and Sidra Ansari. Faced with the same seven questions it is quite interesting to see the variety in our answers – they make the blogs illuminating as well as enjoyable to read. I can’t wait for the rest of the Koyals to have their turn!

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
General

Jump-Back-In January

Yes, I've been away.
Now what on earth can I say
To account for all the missing time?

I don't really know
But I will give it a go,
And try to do the whole thing in rhyme.

I'm a mother, that's true,
But my son's nearly twenty-two,
So it's not like he needs me day and night.

And my parents call on me, yes,
But that isn't exactly a stress,
So blaming them also wouldn't be right.

I went back to work
But my boss is far from a jerk,
So I certainly can't pin my absence on him.

And I'm lazy as ****,
My activity levels suck,
So I can't pretend that I've been at the gym.

The football can get busy –
The fixture list sometimes makes me dizzy – 
But it's not like I go every week.

And yes I cook and I clean,
But I'm no domestic queen,
So that can't be the explanation I seek.

What is going on, then?
What is it that has kept me away when
Every excuse so far has been shot down?

What happened to 'I AM a writer'?
'Putting pen to paper makes my life brighter'?
Did those beliefs just pack up and leave town?

No, that isn't quite it,
But I'm a little embarrassed to admit
Just what has been keeping me away.

You see my novel wasn't picked,
The agents' boxes were left unticked,
So I ended up going astray.

I've been feeling rather lost
And questioning writing's cost
To the body, the mind, and the soul,

When you give so much of self,
And sacrifice time and wealth,
Yet in the end fail to meet your goal

Oh, yes I know you must keep going,
And keep the sentences flowing,
While all the time wearing a smile,

But the truth is I'm dejected
Because my manuscript was rejected
(And, in most cases, not even picked off the pile).

And yes, I know it is a sin
To play the self-pity violin – 
To mope is in such bad taste.

But I doubt that I'm the first
To cry when the bubble burst
So please don't judge me in haste.

Still, this much I know:
It means too much to let it go.
I will inevitably get back in the game.

I will get the laptop humming
And keep the paragraphs coming
And hope soon there's a book to my name.

And loser-talk it may be,
But I will remember what is key
As I prepare myself to jump back in:

Replenishing the well
Matters more than words that sell,
So published or not, I still win.

On that note I end my story
Of no hope and even less glory,
And as promised I told it all in verse.

Compared to all the rest
It cannot be called the best
But it could've been a whole lot worse.

The End. 
(Or, The New Beginning…?)

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Abandoned Self-Portrait no.156

These words you speak

Like they’re so original, so clever,

I’ve been hearing them forever…

Abandoned Self-Portrait no.156

Kind brown eyes 
           Massive thighs
Shapely lips 
           Excessively-wide hips

Right. Let’s start again…

Flowing, glossy dark brown hair
          Lumpy, saggy bits everywhere
A smile that radiates love and care
          Boobs a ridicul—
Okay, enough, let’s not go there.

Why can’t I write one nice verse,
One line, one word about myself
Without you butting in?
          <snigger>
          That depends on the word.
How about ‘beautiful’?
Surely it doesn’t only belong 
To the visually pleasing?
What about the gorgeous-withins?
          But what you are inside
          Isn’t the subject of this portrait,
          And supporting your claim to beauty 
          Would mean helping you to tell a… 
          Porky pie 
          <snigger>

<Sigh>

So what words am I allowed?
          Ugly. Stupid. Lazy. Greedy.
          Loser. Failure. Burden.
          Disgusting. Slobby. Pig.
          We can go on…
Please don’t.
These words you speak
Like they’re so original, so clever,
I’ve been hearing them forever.
They have echoed in my ears
For as long as I can remember.
          Whale
Words flung at me,
Explicit, implied,
From mouths all around me
And countless pair of eyes.
          Elephant
Children, adults, in-betweens.
Loved ones, strangers, in-betweens.
Professionals with a duty of care.
          Suet Dumpling

Okay. Fine. I give up. 
I will choke down the ‘beautiful’
That dared creep onto my tongue.
I can pretend for a second,
Try to use the artist’s licence,
But they are always there—
The voices, the critics—
Poised to remind me
That I
          Fatty 
Am not entitled to the B word,
And that I
          Fatty 
Am in a battle I cannot win.

          Oh, but all is not lost.
          You could be beautiful, you know.
I could?
          Oh yes.
          So very beautiful.
          If you were thin.

The story behind the poem

I have struggled with my weight my entire life, so it is a subject that often shows up in my writing. This poem began as an attempt at a positive self-portrait many years ago but as soon as I drafted it, the internalised fat-hating voice piped up and started telling me what a joke it was to write nice things about myself. Confidence undermined, I ended up hacking away at the poem until it was in complete tatters. Rather than abandoning the poem altogether, however, I decided instead to have a go at capturing just how the portrait came to be shattered. I’m not sure if I’ve done it as well as I would have liked to, but when the essence of this poem is a cry against the tyranny of perfection, it seems only right to share it as it is, imperfections and all.

Categories
News

Flying High with Koyal Writers

It has been a fabulous couple of months for Koyal Writers, the virtual writing group of which I am a member. After delivering an event for South Asian Heritage Month in August, we went on to be featured in Writing Magazine in September. It is quite fitting that our group is named after a bird, because it really does feel like we have taken flight!

I have mentioned the Koyal Writers elsewhere but not really said very much about the group, so that would be a good place to start today. My fellow members (or, as I like to refer to them, my sisters-in-writing) are Anita Goveas, Mala Schneider, Nabeela Ahmed, Sarah M Jasat, Sidra Ansari, and Sujana Crawford. We met in 2018 on the Becoming a Writer course from The Asian Writer and stayed in touch via WhatsApp once the course came to an end. Individually, we write on a wide range of subjects in a variety of forms, including novels, short stories, flash fiction, plays, poetry, and non-fiction. Since January 2020, we have been working more collectively through a virtual journal that we call The Travelling Notebook, which we are aiming to develop into an anthology. We are on Twitter (@thekoyalwriters) and are working on setting up a website and developing our other social media accounts.

Our first event as a formal collective was the video for South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM), which I spoke about in my previous post. To recap, our event, which was broadcast on 6th August, was a pre-recorded video titled ‘The Travelling Notebook; a conversation about connection with Koyal Writers’ in which we shared insight into the workings of a virtual writing group. In the first half of the video, we talk about how we met, how we maintain our connection, and how we collaborate as a writing group through The Travelling Notebook. The second half of the video then features readings from all of the Koyals of pieces that they have contributed to The Travelling Notebook. The video was warmly received and it is still available to view on the SAHM YouTube channel. 

Moving onto the Writing Magazine article, I get the magazine every month and love reading about the different groups showcased in their regular Writers’ Circles feature. With many of the writing groups talking about how they had to adapt their mode of operation due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, I thought that readers might be interested to learn about how Koyal Writers manage connection and collaboration as a virtual group. I contacted Writing Magazine and asked if they would like to feature us. Much to my delight, they wrote back with an enthusiastic ‘yes’, and the next thing we knew, Koyal Writers were under the WM spotlight. Our feature is in the October issue of the magazine, which is out now and available to buy here.

Writing Magazine (October 2021)

It was a real spine-tingling moment when the magazine dropped through the letter box and I opened it up to find our story in print. It makes me proud to see how far our little group has come since our paths happened to converge on the same writing course less than four years ago, and it makes me excited to see how much further we will travel in the next four. Whatever the future holds, I’m so grateful to be on this journey with these amazing women by my side.

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
General

#AmBloopering

Things are a little quiet on the writing front at the moment for me, now that my novel sitting in the virtual slush-piles of various agents patiently awaiting their attention. In the meantime, however, I have been engaging in a fair bit of writing-adjacent activity, so I thought I would share a little about that today.

In particular, I have been getting to grips with recording myself doing readings. Now, I have to admit that reading my work out loud to other people isn’t exactly my favourite part of the being-a-writer gig, because standing in front of a crowd and having all eyes on me is as far from my comfort zone as, say, Australia is from England. But, in the spirit of being courageous in the pursuit of my dreams (which I wrote about in a previous post here) I’m doing my best to embrace it.

So far, my experience of ‘embracing readings’ has gone a little like this: I say a quick just-go-for-it ‘yes’ when asked by someone to do a reading for their event, then immediately push it out of my mind because my anxiety starts rising and the words what-the-hell-was-I-thinking? start playing repeatedly in my head. Then, when the event organiser follows up with me a short while later to ask how I’m getting on with my preparations, I panic all over again, think about ways to get out of the reading, and then tell myself well-you-have-to-do-it-now-because-you-already-said-yes.

At that point, I accept that there is no going back, submit to the process and get my act together. I decide on which piece/extract I’m reading, start practicing, suppress further bouts of panic as they arise, and push push push myself towards the reading and through it and out of the other side. And when it’s all over, I think about how the readings aren’t ever as terrible as I think they’re going to be and admit to myself that I’m-on-a-bit-of-a-high-now-actually and start thinking gosh-it-would-be-fun-to-do-that-again….

With events taking place online for the last 16 months or so due to the pandemic, it has been a very long time since I last had to do an in-person public reading (phew!) but I have done a few for live online events and more recently I have begun working on readings for pre-recorded events. I thought that these would be easier because there wouldn’t be the usual the-audience’s-eyes-are-on-me anxiety, but they’re proving to be trickier. I guess because when you’re live, you’re committed from the moment you start reading and you have to keep going no matter how many mistakes you’re making along the way, whereas when you’re doing something pre-recorded there is an increased expectation that it has to be perfect.

Where that expectation came from, I don’t know, but I didn’t question it and I ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time recording and re-recording and re-re-recording my reading for my first event. Many, many bloopers later, I remembered that perfection is the enemy of creativity and growth, so I told the perfection-expectation to ‘<insert expletive> off’, did the best job I could with my reading, and sent the recording to the event organiser before I could get caught in the picking-faults-in-my-performance loop again. And then I repeated the process for the next reading.

So, that’s a little bit about the learning curve that I have been travelling lately. Would you like to see how the readings actually turned out?  Great! I thought you would never ask… 😉

The first reading is of my story The lady would have preferred Milk Tray, but black magic it is, which I recorded for ‘An Evening of Women’s Flash Fiction Readings’, part of South Asian Heritage Month. The video is available on YouTube and features twelve writers with wonderful tales to tell, so do put your feet up and take your time to check out all of the readings.

The second reading is for ‘The Travelling Notebook: a conversation about connection with Koyal Writers’, also a South Asian Heritage Month event. Koyal Writers is my lovely virtual writing group and this is the first event we are putting together as a group, so we are very excited about it. The recording will go live on YouTube at 12:30pm on Friday 6th August 2021, and I will post a link as soon as it is made available by the organisers.

I would happily share one of my many bloopers with you in the meantime, of course, but I haven’t quite learned how to embed video into these posts just yet. Oh well. One new skill at a time, hey? #AmBloopering #AmLearning #AmShrinkingThatDiscomfortZone

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
General

Love Local Learning

I’ve been playing around with the website today. (Apologies to any close observers made dizzy from seeing all the content and pages jumping about!) Although I had dabbled in blogging many years ago, it was all done in a very basic format back then and this is my first time setting up a full website, so I have had to learn the process anew and I’m still figuring out a lot of things as I go along.

I had been thinking about setting up the website for a long time but that thought wasn’t put into action until I came across a course from my local adult education service earlier this year. I know that plenty of guidance on setting up websites is freely available online but sometimes I just like learning the old-fashioned way, with tutors and fellow students and classroom camaraderie, so as soon as I saw the advert for the ‘Build Your Own Website’ course, I signed up.

Classes took place once a week for five weeks and the teaching was delivered online due to the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. However, although we couldn’t be together, it was still nice to learn alongside other local people in the virtual classroom environment because there is at least a chance that we might cross paths again someday in the real world when the removal of restrictions allows life to go back to ‘normal’.

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a bit of a nerd (I sometimes wonder if I should change my name to Nerdira) and I could probably spend my life as a perennial student, so I’m already itching to get back onto another course. What that will be, I’m not completely sure, but I quite fancy doing something arty in order to expand my creative range as I would like to start adding illustrations to some of my writing.  

Whatever course I end up choosing, I hope that this time it can happen in a real rather than virtual classroom. But even if it ends up being another online course, it won’t really matter. I suspect that Nerdira will be very happy either way.

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Three Little Birds

I listen to them now,

Sitting outside my window

Three Little Birds

They came to Bob Marley
And Corinne Bailey Rae.
Now they have come to me.
Three little birds, named
Belief, Love, and Joy,
With lyrics of affirmation.

Belief sings, ‘Have faith in yourself
And trust in God’s plan.’
Love sings, ‘Be kind to yourself.
You deserve compassion and care.’ 
Joy sings, ‘Let His light into your life,
And let yours shine out to the world.’

Three little birds bringing
My very own inspiration song.
I listen to them now, 
Singing outside my window,
And smile. So too does
My inner child. 

On and on they sing,
The three little birds, 
Telling one little girl
That she matters
And is worth a little song
Every bit as sweet as she.

Oh, if that one little girl
Could have heard 
This one little song 
From these three little birds
When she was still small,
How different would her world now be?

The story behind the poem

I wrote this poem in January 2018 while listening to birds singing outside my window after Fajr, the Muslim dawn prayer. Their chirping brought to mind songs by the two singers referred to in the opening lines of the poem, and I found myself wondering what the birds might say if they were to sing for me. I jotted my initial thoughts down in my Morning Pages and later shaped it into this poem.

Categories
Poetry

Poem: Write!

…when you cannot go any further,

write to guide you home

Write!

Think of a prompt. Any prompt.
A field of daisies. A battle field. 
Any image that will help to yield
Words, sentences, verses.
Literary genius, masterpieces, bestsellers.
And with some luck (maybe not), money and fame.

Search for the spark. Write what you know. 
Maybe not. Disfigure the origins of your tale 
So that those whose lives you have 
Plagiarised won’t recognise themselves,
And the fear of being caught
Does not impede your flow. 

Keep the pen moving, the fingers typing.
Do not pause or edit-as-you-go. 
Write in the morning, write in the evening. 
Write daily, or as the muse strikes. 
Write in private, write in public.
Write on paper, on tablets, on stone. 
Write through the block, because
You cannot write over it or under it or around it. 
You can only smash through it, 
With your pen, a tool far mightier 
Than any weapon you could wield. 

Write what is in front of you, 
Or a million miles away in space,
Or decades, centuries, ages away in time.
Write what is in plain sight. 
Write what is only seen in your mind’s eye.
Write to break hearts. Write to mend them. 
Write for the fun of it. Write deadly serious. 
Write truth to power, to raise up, to bring down. 
Write to give hope, to inspire, to be the change. 

Write because you want to, 
You have to, you need to, 
In the same way you need to breathe.
Inhale reading, exhale writing.
Inhale inspiration, exhale words.
Write because there is nothing else
In the world you would rather be doing. 
Write when you are doing everything
In the world to avoid it. 

Write to speak your truth, or write blatant lies. 
Write to express, write to understand.
Write to know yourself, to be yourself,
Or because you need to take 
A much-needed break from yourself.
Write to take you to the furthermost
Reaches of your universe and, when 
You cannot go any further,
Write to guide you home. 

Write what you want, when you want, how you want. 
Whatever life might have lined up for you
Know this much to be true: 
You must write. 

The story behind the poem

It seems fitting to choose a poem about writing as the first of my ‘secret scribbles’ for the website.  I suspect that every writer has penned at least one verse on the subject at some point in their career. I drafted this poem when I was completing my Morning Pages on the 17th of September 2018. Reading it makes me smile as I wrote it a few months after finishing the Becoming a Writer course, so it reminds me of the early exuberance that came with finally claiming the title.

Categories
General

On Courage and Dreams

Hello again. It’s been a while. A whole lot longer than I’d originally planned, in fact! I hadn’t intended to do a disappearing act right after setting up the website but soon after hitting the launch button, the beta-reading window for my novel (When You’re Smiling) closed and the next stage of manuscript development opened and—poof!—I was lost in the world of editing.

It has been an interesting and exciting but also quite intense couple of months since my last blog. My lovely beta readers gave me a rich body of supportive and constructively-critical feedback that helped me to look at the novel afresh and make some important changes. That phase of revision gave me manuscript draft four and a story that was finally just where I wanted it to be.

I then completed further readthroughs for line-editing and proofreading to polish up the final manuscript and get it submission-ready, after which it was time to start querying agents. But before launching into that stage of the process, I took a moment to simply celebrate and appreciate the fact that I had finished writing my novel.

Writing a novel might not sound like a big deal. Plenty of people write them, after all, so getting a novel published is what really counts… Or so, that is how the narrative goes. But I don’t believe that for one moment. Given the time and effort that it takes to grow a tiny idea into a full-sized book, it is without doubt an achievement in itself to write one, whether or not it ever reaches publication.

I mention elsewhere how being a writer has been a long-held ambition for me. It was when I was sitting in my GCSE English class reading The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton that my dream of writing a novel first hatched, and I am now <cough cough> in my mid-forties, which means that it has taken thirty years for just this bit of the big writing dream to come true.

I made a few attempts in the intervening years to write a book but didn’t get far very far with my efforts – partly because I didn’t have many viable ideas, partly because I didn’t have the know-how to build my maybe-decent-enough ideas into book-length stories, and partly (well, mostly) because I didn’t have confidence in my words, have the belief that they were worth writing.

It was this last problem that I needed to address first, because I knew that I would be forever tripping up in the pursuit of my dream if I didn’t develop the confidence to back myself and do whatever needed to be done to make it come true. So I resolved to work on the dream bit by bit, digging deep to summon up just enough courage—the tiniest of grains—to take the first step in the right direction, and then the next grain for the next step, and so on.

Thankfully, I wasn’t on my own for very long. As I found those grains and took those steps, in a laws-of-attraction sort of way, the dream started drawing closer to me. The door opened to a writing course, which led me to the heart of a wonderful writing group. Further mentoring and development opportunities came next, my family too threw their support into the ring as well, and other things began to align, easing my way.

And all the while, a maybe-decent-enough idea that I had for a novel that I had started writing up in 2016 grew and grew and grew, fed by all the love and encouragement and knowledge and advice that I was receiving along the way, until it became a manuscript ready to be sent out to the publishing world.

I don’t know what the future holds for When You’re Smiling. That’s up to agents and publishers to decide (and whatever God wills, of course). But the bit of the process that was up to me, I did it. I wrote a novel. I wrote a novel. The dream had come true. To me, that was definitely a big deal and an achievement worth celebrating.

So that’s it from me for today. I will leave you with a quote from Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, late chairman of Leicester City Football Club, my home team.

The quote was on display beside a portrait of Khun Vichai in the stands at Wembley at the FA Cup Final in May, when Leicester won the cup for the first time in their 130+ year history. His words resonated particularly strongly with me because When You’re Smiling is set against the backdrop of Leicester’s amazing Premier League victory in 2016, so in a way the achievement of my dream has been helped by Khun Vichai having made Leicester’s dream come true. The quote is now stuck to the wall beside my desk, and I can personally testify to their truth: our dreams really can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.

Peace and blessings,

Nazira

Categories
General

A New Chapter

Hello dear reader, it is nice to meet you.

As you have probably gathered from the way it is plastered all over everything on this website, my name is Nazira and I am a writer.

I am, and have been, many other things beside that over the years (which I’m sure I will go into in future posts) but writing has been the one thing that has consistently coursed through my veins for most of my life. So this website and blog is all about my writing. My practice of it and my love of it.

As you might already have read on my ‘About’ page, I have only been calling myself a writer for around three years. Before that, people around me knew of my love for writing, they knew about my secret scribblings (but, of course, were not allowed to read them), and they knew about my aspirations to be a published author. How could they not, when for over twenty-plus years they had put up with me whispering with due regularity and reverence the words, ‘I am going to be a writer someday’?

In the meantime, they turned to me for help with their writing projects, engaged my services on a freelance basis for their businesses, and praised the high quality of my written output both in my professional roles and academia. They did this because they saw all along what I was too shy to admit: I was already a writer. And a rather good one at that. I just needed the courage to embrace it as fact.

What changed three years ago? I completed the Becoming a Writer course from The Asian Writer, which made it clear that engaging in the act of writing was enough to qualify me as a Writer (with a capital W), regardless of publication credits. And so I embraced it: the identity, the title, the capital W. And sure enough, as it so often does when we take affirmative action in the direction of our dreams (wise words from Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way), doors opened, pathways were illuminated, and the vision began transforming into reality.

Fast-forwarding to today, I find myself in an interesting position. I have grown so much as a person and developed so much as a writer, but there is still much to learn and do, and I am still working towards achieving the big publication dream (for my novel When You’re Smiling). So I have mulled a fair bit over the question of when it would be the right time to launch a website. I haven’t exactly ‘made it’ as a writer, after all, so what do I have to offer others and why would they be interested? Aren’t people simply going to look at the site, scratch their heads, and say ‘Nazira who?’

But, as these past few years have taught me, there is no such thing as the right time, there is no magic line between ‘nobody’ and ‘made it’, and there is also no hard rule saying how long you must remain an apprentice and when you get to become the master. Because, as my Qur’anic Arabic teacher once said, ‘Everybody knows something that could benefit someone else. Even if you only known one letter, you can teach it to a person that doesn’t know it.’

Well, I have been very fortunate to benefit from the teaching of experienced writers and industry experts through schemes like the Middle Way Mentoring Project, and I have also benefited greatly from the knowledge of peers in my writing groups and the generosity of the writing community at large. As a result, I have gained a lot that could in turn be of interest and benefit to others, which seems a good enough reason to share it.  

So, in the spirit of the writing community, and inspired by all those that have been so generous with their knowledge, skills, and support, I have decided that now is as good a time as any to launch my website. I am very excited to be starting this new chapter in my writing story. I hope that by sharing my work and what I have learned along the way through this site, I can make a greater contribution to the creative and literary ecology, give back and pay-it-forward, and help other shy secret-scribblers like I once was to courageously claim the capital-W and step into their lives as Writers.

If you’d like to stay up to date with the blog and other postings to the website, please enter your email address into the subscription box below.

See you again very soon.

Peace and blessings,

Nazira